Several years ago I went with the youth director of the church I was serving and several of the youth, including my daughter, to a Jewish student center on the campus of a large state university. We attended a worship service for the Reformed Jewish students, but under the same roof, in the same building there were other students gathered who represented different Jewish traditions and persuasions. It was an effort to expose the youth, and ourselves, to the unique worship of others with whom we have some common beliefs, though different histories and emphases. It was an effort to overcome some of the "us/them" thinking that is too easy to practice that reinforces divisiveness and ultimately prejudice and hatred.
I remember thinking what a wonderful illustration it provided of the different beliefs we have in the world cooperating under one roof. While it does provide an illustration of focus on our similarities and building cooperation on that rather than highlighting our differences and letting those divide us, I cannot ignore that the solution was to acquiesce and let the differences divide the people into separate rooms. I remember wandering around the building and discovering several different rooms with signs identifying the particular group that met in each room for their particular style of worship. Perhaps that is the best alternative, but I can still imagine and dream of something better. And if I can imagine something better, then I can't help but believe that it is possible and worth pursuing.
In many churches there is the practice of blended worship, in which, most commonly, the music and liturgy of traditional and contemporary service styles are used, in an attempt to blend them into one liturgy and worship order and experience, thus bringing together people whose preferences (and sometimes theology) have caused division within the church. It is, essentially, an attempt to bring into one room people who used to meet in separate worship spaces.
I think that God prefers blended worship, although not the kind that we think of when someone speaks of blended worship. God prefers the blended worship that is blended because there are all the ethnicities and cultures present, the different beliefs and political attitudes represented, the different genders and sexual identities welcomed, even different religions represented; not gathered or blended into a single theology, but all gathered with the many voices blended into one chorus saying "Wow! Thank you!" What better way to worship the God who created all of us, than to come together and overcome our divisions in order to acknowledge the ONE from whom we all come and in whom we all have life? Not unlike the joy a parent might experience when his or her estranged children come together, setting aside their disputes, in order to say "we love you and who you are and what you do for us is far more important than our arguments."
I CAN imagine a god that requires us to treat others who differ from ourselves with malice and contempt and prejudice since that god is far too commonly invoked in our world and lives. I cannot imagine, however, a loving, sovereign, omnipotent God expecting this of us. I am grateful that beyond what my imagination is able to conceive that I trust and fully embrace God who loves me and has stirred in my heart a love for others that is beyond my capacity to generate. I am baffled that this love God instills in me does not require that I abandon my beliefs or traditions or theology in order to love another without reservation, hesitation, or expectation. In truth, the God I know and worship, the One who claims me and loves me, makes it so I can do nothing other than abandon my prejudice and love others without requiring them to believe as I do. And as such, I am able to gather under the one roof of humanity and let my voice join the chorus, saying "Wow! Thank you!"
© 2016 Stephen Carl